Review of 'Good Grief, Charlie Brown!'

good_grief.jpg https://www.somersethouse.org.uk/whats-on/good-grief-charlie-brown

The “Good Grief, Charlie Brown!” exhibit at Somerset House is an interesting mix of material from the “Peanuts” comic strip's creator Charles M. Schulz (who passed away in 2000) then in the second half of the exhibit, an eclectic mix of contemporary artist's interpretation of it.

Entrance

The entrance to the exhibit is off of the embankment with the first room devoted to Schulz, from his early days in the military to his initial, limited, success with “Li'l Folks” (a proto-Peanuts comic strip) through to his tremendous success with Peanuts. Featured are a number of original strips (all with interesting write-ups describing the context and aspects of the strip), videos and displays of artefacts such as his writing materials. When I visited the giant video display at the end of the room was not working but the audio played as sort of an odd running commentary to the displays as I made my way through.

Merchandise

On the first floor of the exhibit is where the contemporary meets the classic with a series of areas on particular themes: “Aaugh! Peanuts and Existentialism”, “The Doctor is In: Peanuts and Psychiatry”, “Snoopy for President! Peanuts, Society and Politics”, “Happiness is…Peanuts and the Bittersweet”, “Pow! Peanuts and Feminism”, “It's the Great Pumpkin: Peanuts, Faith and Morality” and “That's Art! Peanuts and Art”. Each section explores the topic is devoted to with framed original Peanuts comic strips, a display of relevant additional material and a few pieces of modern art riffing on the theme.

First Floor

In the middle of the long room is a reading area with a number of Peanuts books with a doorway and stairs leading to an annex featuring a large room with beanbag chairs where you can watch the classic Peanuts cartoons. This annex has rooms off to either side that feature more modern artist's work based on Peanuts with one having a warning about material being unsuitable for children (ironic given the number of children attending).

Peanut Books

Video Room

With all of the discussion of the themes in this section, it was interesting to learn that Schulz saw no deep meaning in any of his work as it “was just a comic strip” which sold papers with no goals or agendas (an obvious part of this was the publication of his extraordinarily successful “Happiness is a Warm Puppy” book which he freely admitted was to make money). Yet, of course, he could not help but touch on the things that were happening around him like Vietnam, gay rights and segregation – On the later there is a section showing letters between Schulz and an activist where he is eventually encouraged to include a black character in his strip after being reluctant to be in any way patronising. He always seemed to want to be gentle and kind with is work perhaps owing to his religious background which only very rarely strayed into his work (I am thinking the Christmas special is one such time where the story of the birth of Christ is told by Pigpen in a key section at the school show).

At the end of the room you return back to a different section of the ground floor where there is a large area where the children (and adults) can put their creativity to the test with small blank sheets of paper (ostensibly for four-panel frames in the walls) on which you could trace key images from the strip or make your own then there were other larger sheets headed with “It was a dark and stormy night…” that you could then expand on with your magnum opus (a take on Snoopy's efforts to write a novel beginning with this). On occasion an actual councillor occupies a real-life recreation of Lucy's “Advice Booth” which can be amusing.

Playtime!

At this point you exit, of course, into the gift shop where there was a good assortment of souvenirs (including the show guide, of course) and was, obviously, pretty busy on a Saturday early afternoon when I visited.

Peanuts Characters

I have to say I really found the exhibit interesting, particularly, geek that I am, the bits about Schulz but I did learn a lot about the social relevance of his work. I did not really get the relevancy of the contemporary artist's work to this other than in it's literal referencing of the material. These pieces did not seem to add anything to Schulz's material but rather more just a mash-up that often said little.

There were a number of children in the exhibit which I could imagine must have been largely boring for them save the video room, creative section at the end, books (though many were too young to read) and the comic strips themselves. This is rather an expensive way for children to see these things…But there were quite a number of them. Possibly there is the mistaken impression of their parents that this will be a child's exhibit and it most certainly is not (much like the argument that animation is all for children – woe betide the parent that let's their children watch some Japanese animation without supervision).

“Good Grief, Charlie Brown!” is an interesting exploration of a cultural phenomenon that will never be forgotten, the Peanuts comic strip.

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Review Date: 2019-02-24



Somerset House

Location: London (England)

Address: Strand, London WC2R 1LA ENGLAND

Public Transport: TUBE Temple

Telephone: +44 (0)20 7845 4600

URL: https://www.somersethouse.org.uk/

Somerset House is located just off the Strand on the Thames embankment between Embankment and Blackfriar's tube stations. It plays host to a number of regular art exhibits and events. The central courtyard in the Christmas season is home to a skating rink but in the summer is used for concerts and film displays. There is a small gift shop on the right when you enter (under the arches) and a restaurant on the portico nearest the river.